Makeup, Self-Expression, and the Selfie

I remember my introduction to makeup. I was in junior high, and my mother had a Mary Kay party, to which she politely included my sister and I. I remember one thing of this party, and I always will: how to apply eye shadow. Just the basics — a lid shadow, a highlight, a crease color. Apply liner (my middle school preference was raccoon liner) and mascara and voila! From girl to lady — albeit a dark one — I went.


This was the era of MySpace. I thought of it as explaining oneself on one complex sheet of digital paper. I was confused enough to believe, at 12 or 13 years old, that the self and spirit of a person could be understood via the information provided on that platform. My misguided self took all of my artistic energy and applied it toward the crowning jewel of social media — the selfie. I did not think myself beautiful, and in fact, from 2002-2011 I downright hated myself. But in my own portraits, I could create a little melodramatic me-centric universe where I could be understood. Maybe even appreciated! (I much later understand that I was loved and appreciated through even my darkest times.)



I’ll leave it to my psychiatrist to determine why I often only shot half of my face in these early portraits.

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Some of these images are quite happy. My last high school band concert. Being accepted into art school for music. Playing guitar, faceless, on my parents’ front porch. A few photos of me fooling around on my new Macbook for college, hoping to capture my thin face and my eye for new experiences.

But as I look through my collection of photos on my laptop and on my cell phone, there is a complete gap of pictures of myself from my freshman through my fourth year of college. This gap says a lot — for one, I rid myself of social media entirely. At times, I thought taking selfies was completely vain. (It is. But there’s more to it than that.) But I also didn’t ever think I could take a picture that I’d like. For most of this time, I was battling bipolar disorder and PTSD undiagnosed and all alone. Add in the stress of music school, an abusive relationship, alcoholism, a few breakups, and adult acne, and you have the mess that was Martha for several long years.

Enter my brilliant psychiatrist and therapist. Enter endless medications and self-help books. Enter my service animal. Enter the acceptance of the love I couldn’t previously handle from my mother, my father, my sister, my boyfriend, and all of my wonderful friends in this world. (Honorable mention goes to my cats!) Enter my confidence machine — makeup.

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image (my first Sephora makeover, which changed my life; my first day with Buddy, my service animal; the day I chopped off all of my hair for the first time)

So I’m taking this back to the beginning, back to Mary Kay, back to makeup.

After I made enough progress in treatment of my mental illness, I started to care for myself again. I started wearing foundation, seeing a dermatologist, and expressing myself with eyeshadows and lipsticks.

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(channeling my inner Winona; look at me I knit a hat, playing trombone in a pit orchestra, being a red-lipped ice queen, a pre-Halloween party selfie)

And there was the one night of bipolar mania in which I decided to do a self-portrait titled “Androslut,” which one of my friends noted was “very Bowie.”


A picture says a thousand words. A selfie, I believe, says more.

Cheers to the confidence to take one, and thanks to my mother and Mary Kay for my first makeup lesson.





  1. Rikzah Zia · December 22, 2014

    Wow you look gorgeous 😀


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